2 lawsuits claim FUSD allowed sex abuse to students

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Fresno Unified faces two new lawsuits from students who say they're victims of school staff committing sexual misconduct. (KFSN)

Fresno Unified faces two new lawsuits from students who say they're victims of school staff committing sexual misconduct.

"The big question we have is 'Why did the teachers and administrators allow this to happen?'" said attorney Greg Mullanax, who is one of the attorneys suing FUSD on behalf of a student.

The lawsuits come a few months after police arrested a middle school teacher and a high school teacher's aide. When Justine Nelson walked out of the Fresno County jail last September, she was about a month into the school year at Tenaya Middle School, and she was possibly at the end of her career in education.

Police say she performed sex acts on a 14-year-old eighth grader. And now, the boy's family is suing her and the school district. The lawsuit claims sexual abuse took place on the school's campus and staff should've stopped it, especially since there were enough signs of trouble that a vice principal asked Nelson if there was an inappropriate relationship.

"This incident occurred on campus and on multiple occasions so we believe the school district failed to protect the child," said Warren Paboojian, who is suing FUSD on behalf of the boy.

Hoover High School teacher's aide Theresa Ramirez is in a similar situation. Police say she took a special needs student off campus several times over the course of a year. They say she gave him alcohol and drugs and had sex with him.

And a lawsuit against Fresno Unified says school staff turned a blind eye to their daily disappearances, despite warnings.

"One might look at it and say 'Well, they made a mistake one time and a teacher and a student left the same time,'" Mullanax said. "But this occurred repeatedly and that's what I don't understand is, do they not take attendance? Do they not monitor their teachers' activities, especially with special needs students?"

A spokesperson for Fresno Unified tells Action News they can't comment on pending litigation, but she said that neither of those women work for the district any longer.

Nelson's defense attorney tells us money is the motivation behind her case. He wouldn't comment on whether she crossed the line with her student, but said calling it sexual abuse is blowing it out of proportion. But attorneys for the boys say the scars are very real.

"When you're 15 or 16 years old, that's a vulnerable age for most people and when you have a teacher taking advantage of you out like that - and I think she scoped him out and groomed him somewhat to be able to take advantage of him - that's just bad," Mullanax said. "And he's going to have years and years of therapy to get over this thing."

Ramirez's defense attorney mentioned the financial motive as well and said her client stands by her not guilty plea.

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